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Thames and Medway Canal

The Thames and Medway Canal was originally constructed as a short-cut to bypass the lower Thames and Medway estuaries, but it was short-lived as a through route.

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Facts & Stats

7 miles


The length of the Thames & Medway Canal when constructed


Authorised by an Act of Parliament passed this year.


Purchased by a rail company to convert the canal’s tunnel to a railway.


Envisaged when England was at war with France, the Canal’s purpose was to cut the journey time between the Woolwich and Chatham dockyards. It was a much safer route than out into the estuary as Britain was then at war with France. It was wider than many canals (dimensions 80 foot x 19 foot, with a draught of 4 foot), being suitable for Thames Barges.  The Strood to Higham Tunnel was the largest on the network and the second longest before a midway passing place was cut.  For more about the tunnel, check out our feature on canal tunnels.

The Canal was purchased by the Gravesend and Rochester Railway and Canal Company in 1845, who converted the portion of the canal running through the tunnel for their railway.  A year later this company was absorbed into the South Eastern Railway Company.  The Canal remained in use from Gravesend to Higham, with two locks up from the Thames, but no longer a through route to Rochester and the River Medway, the canal was little used and operations ceased entirely in the 1930s.

In 1975, IWA decided that the Canal and Gravesend Basin should become part of the waterway network and benefit from the waterway restoration effort that was enveloping the country in the 1970s.  So, in September of that year a Rally of Boats was organised.  Activities took place on the Gordon Promenade and the Canal Basin and dignitaries, politicians, reporters and several hundred local residents attended the festivities.  A brochure was produced and a rally queen crowned.  As a result of the interest engendered, the Thames and Medway Canal Association was founded in February 1976.  The Thames and Medway Canal Association will celebrate the bicentenary of the Canal’s completion in 2024 and it remains the only commercial canal built in the county of Kent.

Navigation Today

The western portion of Canal can be accessed from Mark Lane, Gravesend DA12 2HN, where there is a slipway and landing stage.  Canoes, rowing boats and paddle boards can be used as there is around 1km of open water, which is close to the SSSI area of Shorne Marshes. The towpath is used by cyclists and walkers and is part of Sustrans route no.1. The towpath is close to the Saxon Shore Way and gives pedestrian access from Gravesend through to Higham station and the tunnel entrance. The Thames and Medway Canal Association has been working for over 45 years to maintain a green corridor providing bins, benches and information boards at intervals along the canal, which the Association maintains.  Members have also compiled circular walk leaflets for the area including the river Thames.

Waterway underfunding

Hundreds of miles of waterways – along with their unique heritage and habitats – are currently starved of funding and rely on constant lobbying by us to safeguard their future.

Sustainable Boating

We want boating on canals and rivers to be more sustainable and – even though the current overall contribution to UK carbon emissions is very small – we want to help reduce emissions on the waterways.

Waterways Heritage at Risk

Britain’s canals and rivers are a unique, living heritage. But that heritage is at risk – from urban development, lack of protection, loss of skills and knowledge and climate change.

You can help Save Waterways Heritage.

Waterway restoration

Restoring the UK’s blue infrastructure – our inherited network of navigable canals and rivers – is good for people and places.

Local activities